Author: John Hooper
Published: December 30, 2014
About the Author: John Hooper is a British journalist and author. He currently serves as the Italy correspondent of The Economist and a is a contributing editor of The Guardian. He has also written or broadcast for the BBC, NBC, and Reuters. He is the author of The Spaniards and The New Spaniards. For more about this journalist’s fascinating career, click here.
Synopsis: This book attempts to demystify contemporary Italian life and Italian people to foreigners in an educational and entertaining way. Having served as a foreign correspondent in Rome for 15 years, Hooper was able to make keen observations and draw informed conclusions about the nature Italians. His book is culturally all-inclusive, touching on topics such as geography, politics, art, football, media, and gastronomy. Prepare to be surprised.
After not picking up a book to read for leisure since ‘Nam, I was naturally inclined to read one titled The Italians. Having decided to embark on an experience living abroad, I figured it would be worth my while to educate myself on relevant matters pertaining to the country that would be hosting me. I chose this book assuming that it would be all-encompassing and factual, given the author’s credentials.
A few chapters in, I was hooked. Hooper begins by providing a lay of the land (literally) and discussing Italy’s journey to nationhood. He then moves on to discuss various aspects of Italian life that define the modern Italian person – some are expected, and others not so much. There was, of course, a chapter dedicated to the Mafia, but there was also one titled Gnocchi on Thursday where he discusses a tendency for Italians to cling to traditions.
As I made headway in the book, I found myself constantly nodding my head in agreement to something I read thinking, “Yes, that is so true!” Hooper brought to light matters that I was aware of but not educated on, such as Berlusconi’s rise to political power. He also introduced concepts that were completely new to me, in particular the omnipresence of showgirls on primetime television. The book concludes with a reference to the film La Grande Bellezza, leaving an open interpretation to the reader about how Italy will define itself in the future.
Hooper’s anecdotal rhetoric combined with relevant statistical data allowed the piece to strike a delicate balance of being both amusing and informative. Generally speaking, I enjoyed this book very much but I did take issue with some of Hooper’s claims. I felt that some of his opinions were simply that – opinions (don’t worry, I confirmed my doubts with a real live Italian when I sensed an overgeneralization).
One example was his assumption that Italians collectively wear sunglasses on a frequent basis in an attempt to metaphorically remain secretive by shielding their eyes from others. I’d agree that Italy is a very pro-sunnies country (which I love), but I interpret this as more of mix of fashion and function; Italian people value appearances and sunglasses are a stylish accessory, and Italy also experiences a lot of sunshine.
- Well-researched piece of literature that enlightens readers on the culture of a southern European population
- “Storytelling” mixed with fact-sharing
- Minimal inaccurate stereotyping, but it’s present